LE BOURGET, FRANCE // A young girl believed to be the only survivor of an Indian Ocean plane crash flew back to Paris from the Comoros Islands today to the waiting arms of her father. Bahia Bakari, 14, returned to France on a plane carrying a government minister and other French officials. The Falcon-900 jet with medical facilities aboard left the archipelago nation of the Comoros, a former French colony, and arrived at Le Bourget airport just north of Paris.
Yemenia Flight 626 crashed on Tuesday morning off Comoros amid heavy winds, and Bahia, described by her father as a fragile girl who could barely swim, spent over 13 hours in the water clinging to plane wreckage before she was rescued. The other 152 people on the plane, including her mother, are presumed dead. It is not clear that Bahia knows her mother is dead because her uncle who visited her yesterday at a Comoros hospital was too heartbroken to break the news. Instead, he told Bahia that her mother was also recovering.
Bahia's father, Kassim, met the plane and said he was relieved and overjoyed to see his daughter even as he mourned his wife. "It was very powerful," he said of his reunion with Bahia. He said he asked her, "'How are you? Was the return trip OK?' ... We joked a little, the two of us." Several other family members joined the airport reunion before an ambulance took the girl to the Armand-Trousseau Children's Hospital in eastern Paris.
"In the midst of the mourning, there is Bahia. It is a miracle, it is an absolutely extraordinary battle for survival," France's government minister for co-operation, Alain Joyandet, said at a news conference at the airport. Bahia, the eldest of four children, had boarded a plane in Paris with her mother, Aziza, on Monday morning for a long journey via Marseille and San'a, Yemen, to Comoros where they planned to spend part of the summer school holidays with relatives. Her three siblings had stayed behind with her father.
When found hanging on to a piece of the plane, Bahia was suffering from hypothermia, a broken collarbone and bruises to her face, her elbow and her foot. Mr Joyandet said the girl recounted her ordeal a bit to him. "She says instructions were given to passengers and that then she felt something like electricity ... as if she had been a bit electrocuted," he explained. "And suddenly there was this big sound. She found herself in the water - and you know the rest."